Explain the significance of the book's title, Dicey's Song.
Song plays an important role in Dicey's life. She takes comfort in singing with her family and in remembering songs she learned in Provincetown and during her journey to Crisfield, she finds strength and hope in listening to Maybeth play and sing, she befriends Jeff because of the music he shares with her, and her friendship with Mina solidifies when the girl joins the Tillermans in an afternoon of singing. At the same time, Dicey herself is not particularly musical, and she has no one particular song to which she returns throughout the novel. The song of the novel's title, then, consists not of one particular song, or one particular musical moment, or even music in general. Instead, it consists of the act of reaching out, with which Dicey struggles throughout the novel. Voigt uses song to symbolize the act of reaching out to another, and, indeed, in the examples listed above, we can see friendship extended and shared in each of these musical instances. Dicey's song consists not only of music, but also of all her acts of reaching out: her conversation with Sammy in the barn, her essay about Momma, her phone call to Mina. Dicey sings in her attempts to connect with those around her.
Briefly explain Dicey's and James's personas in school and their reasons for assuming these personas. What do the two children's personas have in common?
Dicey and James each craft a persona for their schoolmates that in some ways is consistent with their home persona and in some ways contradicts it. Dicey, for example, tries to impress upon her schoolmates how little she cares about them or what they think of her, and how uninterested she is in all the goings-on of the school. She sits silent in the back of her classes, sulkily staring out the window. She appears gruff, unpleasant, stubborn, and sharp-tempered to her schoolmates, dismissing even Jeff and Mina's friendly gestures. This persona is, in some ways, a magnification of her more natural tendencies towards sharpness and disgust for the conventional and normal. At the same time, her disregard for her schoolmates' opinions of her and for her work at school contrasts sharply with how deeply she cares about her family and her work at home, on the boat, and in Millie's store. James, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to create a likeable persona at school. Where Dicey magnifies her distinguishing characteristics (sharpness and suspicion of conventions), James mutes his (intelligence and curiosity) when he begins to turn in work below his capabilities to blend in better with the other students. Though they alter themselves in completely different ways, both James and Dicey are acting out of their insecurities. Neither thinks that other children will like them for who they are, and consequently, Dicey acts hostilely in order to avoid rejection, and James acts more normal than he is, also to avoid rejection.
Why does Gram prevent the children from going into the attic until the very end of the novel? Does this contradict her advice to Dicey to reach out? If so, how? If not, why do you think so?
For most of the novel, Gram forbids the children to go into the attic, and becomes angry when the younger children disobey her. She guards the attic so closely because, though she has opened her home and life to them, she does not feel ready to open her past to them, and the attic contains relics of her past that would, undoubtedly, spark questions for the children. Gram's past contains what she considers to be her failings: her inability to counteract her husband's stubborn will, her own stubborn and proud decision to stand by him and let his hardness drive all the children away from her. Though Gram loves the children and feels capable of taking on the responsibility—emotional and otherwise—of raising them, she does not, until the end of the book, feel capable of admitting the details of her failings to them, nor of remembering the happy times, now painful to remember, before the breach between her and her children sprang up.
In some ways, this action stands in direct contradiction with Gram's advice to Dicey to reach out, which she encourages her granddaughter to do with her hand opened up. At the same time, Gram fully acknowledges the contradictions inherent in human behavior and relationships. For example, on the train ride home from Boston, she admits that her husband, hard man though he was, was not all bad nor always wrong. Gram's decision to keep the attic closed off from her grandchildren is one of these contradictions. In a way, it is part of her reaching out, for Gram cannot force herself to come to terms with the past before she is ready. By guarding the attic from the children, Gram is protecting herself in order that she will have the strength and resources she needs to continue reaching out in other ways, and gradually to build up to the point at which she feels capable of sharing the past with them.